Why you need to focus your Salesforce ISV messaging (Trails Podcast episode #7 with Ben Asfaha)

Presenting Trails Podcast, a compelling series that leads you through the ever-evolving Salesforce ecosystem. Join us as we explore the avenues of innovation, transformation, and success made possible by the Salesforce platform.

  • Published 10 Nov 2023
  • 10 mins read
Why you need to focus your Salesforce ISV messaging  (Trails Podcast episode #7 with Ben Asfaha)
Table of contents

Episode seven: Ben Asfaha​​, CEO and Co-Founder of PipeLaunch

Join us in this episode as we delve into the perspective of Ben Asfaha, Co-Founder and CEO of PipeLaunch, discussing the importance of focused messaging and targeting for maximum ROI among Salesforce ISV founders. Explore his journey, gain insights, and discover valuable tips.

Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about your journey with Salesforce?

My name is Ben – I'm based in Munich. I'm the Founder of PipeLaunch. We've been around as a company for about three years now. We took the product to market in January last year. So, 2023, if you're listening to the podcast in the future. Since then, we've been able to win about 80 customers. As of today, we are forecasted to finish 2023 with over 100 customers.

I've been in the ecosystem for a while now. Before starting PipeLaunch, I worked at Salesforce with other ISVs – like Conga and Nintex – the company that acquired Drawloop. I've been in the ecosystem for several years now. As soon as I worked for Conga, I knew I wanted to build my own ISV sooner or later, and that vision materialized when I started PipeLaunch after leaving Salesforce.

What problem are you solving with PipeLaunch, and what are your biggest success stories so far?

If you look at PipeLaunch – maybe let's go back one step. Let's get into the vision when I was still working at Salesforce, and we came up with the idea for PipeLaunch. People buy these amazing CRMs like Salesforce, and after a short time, they realize that the CRM is only as powerful as the data you have in that CRM.

You start experiencing a lot of bottlenecks as soon as you want to start using AI automation because most of those processes rely on healthy data. The same thing comes in when you're speaking about leadership trying to make decisions around the business. It becomes challenging to make decisions if you don't have accurate data in your CRM.

Everything you're doing is guesswork, and you're generating a lot of blind spots. From an operational perspective, salespeople spend more time doing manual data entry. The operational stuff that doesn't add any value to the business. So, that's how we came up with PipeLaunch after closing a few projects at Salesforce and trying to build a product that enables companies to have their entire data in the CRM up to date.

In general, data decay can happen quickly. We're looking at about 30% during 12 months, and PipeLaunch prevents that from happening. PipeLaunch enables salespeople to spend more time on what they're meant to be doing, which is selling – not manual data input in the CRM. That's how PipeLaunch started. 

As I said, we started in January last year. That's when we took the product to market in January 2022. And from the first month, we generated five customers. We just released the product on AppExchange. We started getting some inquiries. In the beginning, we were talking with much smaller companies. We're progressively solving more customer challenges and working with bigger accounts.

Can you share some insights about your go-to-market strategy?

I'll start with where we have failed so far because that'll give you a good outlook on what works for us. We have a broad product and messaging, allowing anyone to be a PipeLaunch customer. It doesn't matter whether you're in construction, high-tech, or finance. Having a broad offering sometimes makes it very difficult to sell your product. You never speak your customers' unique language because you could sell to anyone.

We initially focused on people's pain points before they could properly use a CRM instead of looking at the recently changed industry-specific pains. We opened up to three verticals, which are focus verticals. We just came from Hamburg, where we had a Salesforce event around education. They have a lot of universities. That's one use case that we started going after.

The response was much higher than it would have been if we had spread the message thinly because we're now talking about alum engagement, donor management, and upselling. Universities are now facing a big challenge – people are not attending university as much as before. They need to start working like businesses. Speaking that language allows us to generate more revenue and increase our conversion rates.

The other one is high-tech. We are a tech company, so it's easy to position and adjust our product to the tech industry. And then lastly, recruitment, which is right now the fastest growing industry we're going after. The mistake we made in the past was that we were trying to go after everything in the messaging. The conversion rates were low.

Our conversion rates have now been increasing a lot. If we meet with education, recruiting, or high-tech firms, either myself or any of the people who work at PipeLaunch right now will get a second meeting. The conversion rate increased from one in five to one in three, which is massive. For us, it means that more meetings finally mean more revenue.

Studies suggest that businesses adopting highly targeted messaging strategies in the Salesforce ecosystem experience a remarkable 20-30% increase in conversion rates compared to those with broader approaches.

The other part of our go-to-market strategy was that we were lucky enough to be introduced by Salesforce to one of the secret weapons they usually use for other ISVs. A gentleman who has been in the ecosystem for a while just hit the ground running. He joined us and quickly redefined our messaging, helping us generate more leads from AppExchange. He tripled our lead flow by using marginal gains everywhere and generating more leads. He's been with us since May now.

I've learned from having him on board that you should look for someone who knows the market better than you, or you need to learn the market and how people generate leads in the ecosystem. It's becoming more challenging to generate leads. The budgets are a lot tighter. Our average sales cycle used to be 12 days, and it now increased to 26 days last quarter. This quarter, we're looking at over 90 days.

Of course, we're increasing our average field size, but the increase in the average sales cycle has massively changed. Before, you probably had one, two, or three meetings before you'd close the deal. We sometimes look at over ten meetings because budgets are tighter. And that means that you need to do two things. First, you need to focus on the pains of the customer. Industry-specific pains, don't be too generic.

Try to explain how that customer will generate more revenue by buying your product. Right now, it's all about generating more revenue or saving money. You can't afford to be a 'nice to have.' It just won't work. If you're 'nice to have,' you will not win that deal because budgets are not there anymore. When generating leads, rely on something other than AppExchange.

As you know, many people think you will switch on and suddenly get thousands of leads. That will happen in the first month. There may be an algorithm where if you're a new app, they put you very high up and will incentivize you. But that fades away very quickly.

If you look at your distribution channel, it consists of many things. It could be AppExchange, your website, or podcasts, which is a great way to generate leads. It could be Salesforce, AEs, and SI partners. We focus too much on a three-step sales channel. That would be SIs, technology partners, and Salesforce. We invested a lot in those partnerships. 

But the great thing with an SI is that your deal size will significantly increase. The downside is that you won't be in control of the deal like you would have been if you were in the driver's seat and had generated that lead. There are great SI partners. I love the days we work with 25 SI partners, but the complexity of their project means that your product is only a tiny part of the entire project. That then means it becomes questionable how relevant your product is.

If you talk about Salesforce, what role does PipeLaunch play in that entire project, and how much power do we have to influence that deal? That's the other learning we had, that we should have taken our lead generation a lot quicker.

I was very impressed with where you guys are building and how you set up your structure. I was impressed with the sales motions and sales team you're building. I wish we had done that from day one. We didn't own our sales channel. We gave the sales channel and tried to outsource it.

Partners and Salesforce need to look after themselves because there's not enough budget. When they're in good times, when there's more money than people can spend, it's a great option. The Salesforce ecosystem is not driven in the same way as other ecosystems. If you look at Microsoft, it's 100% a partner business. It works differently in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Partners are still good, but if you do it, do it properly, or don't do it at all. Go all in:

  • Have specific newsletters for them
  • A partner program
  • A portal to register deals
  • The collateral they need to do presentations
  • Meet them at least once per quarter
  • Meet the entire consulting team.

If you can't do that, don't do it. One thing that helped us a lot was the ability to work with many people from the ecosystem.

If you look for the PipeLaunch eBook, you'll find it on our website. What was very cool is we recently worked on specific pain points in the Salesforce ecosystem, which is user adoption. 

I used to work at Salesforce. It doesn't mean the CRM is not good, but you always have a challenge. No one wakes up one day and says, "I want to implement a new CRM." They are drivers. The drivers you want more market share from, more accountability within the company, and more metrics.

That's why you implement the CRM. The user is often forgotten, which is normal. Because so many topics are going on, there will be low user adoption during the first three to six months. So, we built an eBook around that.

We used to have that pain all the time. Instead of just releasing it, we engaged with 12 MVPs. They're usually the most valued professionals within the Salesforce ecosystem that are nominated as a top contributor or voice for the ecosystem. The great thing was that they were helping us promote the book. They were also giving us ideas on what to write.

The eBook became so good for us that we're now thinking of doing a yearly release on new updates and tools you can use. The eBook is about not just the mindset and how you should get people on board. It is also about what tools you can use to check your adoption and how you can incentivize people to use Salesforce more. We have a part in that because Python helps people spend more time within the CRM. That's been very useful and didn't cost us much money.

If you can afford it, the other channel is leveraging Salesforce Ben. I believe they are now achieving close to a million monthly visitors. And if you think about that, if you're selling the Salesforce ecosystem, almost 100% will be your audience. That's one of the places where you can go.

Salesforce has been a game changer for us, and all the advertising we've done with them has a positive ROI. And then, obviously, you have to decide whether you want to go for something with a very aggressive call-to-action – with a lower conversion rate – or if you want to go for a high conversion rate with branding. If you look at our eBook, it's mainly branding and less about starting a trial with us. But it helps us open doors, and we have one more touch point with someone.

Do you have any other advice for aspiring ISV founders?

When we started PipeLaunch, I used to be a salesperson. I then switched to being a product person because that happens when you become a founder. We experimented a lot. The company is three years old, but we've only been in the market for two years.

We interviewed over 100 sales leaders. We took the product to market and got super excited. Everyone told us what we wanted to hear. But no one was buying it. We then had two options. We close PipeLaunch, or we try something else. So, we read the notes we took from those 100 calls with VPs. We realized that the first product we had built was about sales productivity and engagement. It was great, but people were doing it outside of Salesforce.

We realized that everyone was talking about data enrichment and accuracy. And then, we switched our product and took 40% of it to build what we have now. As a business, we've learned to take our time trying to understand pain points.

A reported 20-30% of organizations struggle with the pain point of low engagement levels among users, impacting the overall effectiveness of Salesforce.

You always gravitate towards positive feedback. And that was a massive learning. The people who like you are not the best people to give you feedback. And then we did a switch where we said, "Okay, each time someone says the product is great, we'll thank them." But then we only focus on the ones being negative about our product. That's when we started building lists of feature requests for things people wanted.

A study by PwC found that 72% of companies use customer feedback (including negative feedback) to help shape their products and services. Critiques can uncover potential flaws and guide improvements.

The people who wanted us to succeed and gave us the best feedback almost destroyed the business. Not because they wanted to but because they wanted to be helpful. They wanted to motivate us to go further. That's something that I would say to someone else. Focus on the feedback you don't want to hear because it's usually the feedback that will put you on the right track.

We had a few customers that hated what we built. We stayed close to them and built what they requested. And some of them converted to customers now, which is unbelievable. The features we built for those customers are now helping us convince other customers in their industry.

There are a lot of things you can change when you begin your startup. If you could go back in time to day one of your startup, there are many things you would have done differently. But to change them now becomes very difficult. I wish we would have sat down longer and looked at what we're doing.

I love the Salesforce ecosystem. If you cut any of our team members in half, we'll bleed Salesforce blue. But the reality is there are many things we should have done differently. We should rely on something other than Salesforce infrastructure to build on because of the use cases we're trying to solve. This is purely because of the experience we're trying to give our customers. There are multiple worlds and realities that exist, and you need to define which one is the right one for you.

But take your time and try to build an architecture from a product and go-to-market perspective. You might think you will have a B2B enterprise product requiring a lot of sales effort. In the end, you might have a self-service product. You have to start with smaller deals before going to the bigger ones. But that also means your architecture needs to sustain that motion.

In a nutshell, focus on constructive feedback and think it through before you start building.

Pay attention to pain points

Thank you for tuning into this episode of Hutte's Trails Podcast.

Any guesses as to who our next expert will be?

Last updated: 12 Jun 2024